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Why you're wrong about most things with CrossFit

Warum Du bei CrossFit bei den meisten Sachen falsch liegst

CrossFit: If you argue against it, then you should at least know what you're talking about.

Otherwise you'll sound like a jogger trying to explain the disadvantages of the bench press to a powerlifter.
Here's a criticism I hear in the real world all the time combined with the real background.

1 - There is too much variety

Critics say that you can't make progress with CossFit because every training session looks different. They think that variety means that no exercise is repeated from week to week, so you never experience progressive overload. But that's not true. CrossFit isn't all about doing the unfamiliar on a regular basis, it's about doing the most effective exercises - but in different ways. This means that you are constantly adapting to pack a lot of effort into a short period of time. This is something called work capacity. It has nothing to do with the idea of "muscle confusion", which critics often mistakenly mention.

The main basic exercises of CrossFit are squats, deadlifts, snatches, deadlifts, pull-ups, rows, dips and overhead presses. These exercises are practiced continuously and people regularly improve in terms of both strength and technique. Most CrossFitters follow plans from top CrossFit boxes and these are not as randomly thrown together as many critics seem to believe. CrossFit programs may have been quite randomly thrown together in 2004, but times have changed. Occasionally a completely novel training approach will pop up at a WOD(Workout of the Day) and expose people to something completely different, but CrossFit classes start and end with big multi-joint exercises.

2. it's just cardio!

No, CrossFit consists of strength and power exercises, bodyweight exercises, gymnastics exercises, and yes, some interval training and longer duration cardio - but also 1RM and Strongman exercises. Your heart rate will definitely go up, but if your heart rate doesn't go up during the workout, then your workout is missing something important - intensity. One part of the one-hour classes is for strength and technique, the other part is for intense metabolic conditioning.

3. it's not planned correctly!

To say that CrossFit is not planned correctly is like saying that bodybuilding is not planned correctly. The composition and planning of a training program is not the same among all CrossFit boxes, nor among all individuals who adapt exercises and weights to their needs. And any CrossFitter who is unhappy with their program is free to train elsewhere where the workouts look different.

4 - Men are weak and lanky!

Are conventional gyms only packed with muscular and defined people? Last time I checked, there was a wide spectrum of different body types in every gym I looked at.

Let's not forget that the best male CrossFitters are more muscular and stronger than most of their critics. It's not uncommon for men to perform squats at around 400 pounds and deadlifts at around 500 pounds - great stats for people who focus on more than just three exercises. In terms of mass, most look like male competitors in the figure class during competition season. In other words, they are aesthetically pleasing without trying to be aesthetically pleasing.

5 - The top CrossFitters don't train with CrossFit at all!

Just like at the elite level of any competition, the top CrossFitters use more advanced programs and specialize in the things they need to improve. Preparing for the CrossFit Games is basically what they do for a living. Some will do the WOD in addition to their own training, while others will not. But it's pretty safe to say that most (if not all) started by simply doing the Workout of the Day, and the basics of CrossFit are still the foundation of their training.

A similar "complaint" about the top CrossFit athletes is that all of them were already strong before they started CrossFit. This is true for some of them, of course, but the CrossFit Games today are full of athletes in their early twenties who had never trained seriously before they started CrossFit. They are true products of CrossFit training.

6 - CrossFitters don't do real pull-ups!

They most certainly do. There are workouts where pull-ups are scheduled with strict form and additional weights. There are also workouts where they are not scheduled and people can do them with momentum from the legs or correctly. You can pull your chest to the bar however you want. it may come as a shock to some, but CrossFitters who don't believe in momentum with the legs on pull-ups don't use momentum either. Yes, at a certain point the volume of pull-ups will necessitate some momentum or a band for support, but a paying client may choose to do something else instead. Do you recognize how personal accountability works? And as for a pull-up with momentum from the legs, strength coaches have said the following: a pull-up with momentum from the legs (aka kipping pull-up) is to a strict pull-up what a standing shoulder press with momentum from the legs (aka push press) is to a strict standing shoulder press. Both standing shoulder press with leg swing and standing strict shoulder press have their value, but a leg swing will help you push the bar up quickly and efficiently. The same idea applies to pull-ups with a leg swing. And some CrossFit trainers won't encourage their clients to do leg swing pull-ups until they can perform perfect pull-ups with strict technique. The "butterfly" version ( is not as widely used outside of competitions. Does this version even constitute a real pull-up? Well, is bench pressing with a special press shirt that allows you to press 100 pounds more than without such equipment "real" bench pressing? Both are competition variations used by experienced strength athletes who have already mastered the regular version of the exercise perfectly.

7 - You never train heavy! You only train with high repetitions!

There are many CrossFit workouts that require you to find your max weight for one repetition, your max weight for 2 repetitions, your max weight for 5 repetitions, and so on. Wait, you didn't know that? And yet you attack CrossFit? Strange. Google is your friend.

8 - It's dangerous!

The initial studies that were supposed to prove that CrossFit is dangerous have since been discredited. A study conducted by the NSCA reported an inaccurate injury rate. Subjects assigned to the category of subjects who were injured had withdrawn from the study in part for other reasons unrelated to injury. And all training is "dangerous". The same goes for chronic illness, instability when climbing stairs, artificial hip joints, heart surgery, etc. CrossFit can help prevent all of this.

Perhaps there are no injured bodybuilders, powerlifters, runners or recreational athletes? CrossFit has attracted tons of people, many of whom are experienced athletes. Of course there will be injuries just because of the amount of people doing the sport. Open 12,000+ gyms for any sport and physical therapists will get a surge of patients. The same would happen if 12,000 new powerlifting weight rooms were opened.

9 - It makes women bulky and out of shape!

If you don't think muscular women are attractive, then it probably means you're out of shape. In general, those who work out with weights themselves appreciate women with visible muscles. Those who do not exercise themselves do not find muscular women attractive because they have not been exposed to weight training themselves. This is an acquired taste. Fortunately, the women who make the most progress in CrossFit don't worry about having too much muscle - or they notice the muscle gain and try to build more. So if you're trying to hurt their feelings by calling them hulks, manly, bulky or muscular, you're just complimenting them.

10 - It's too expensive!

You actually get more bang for your buck than if you paid for a membership at a conventional gym and also hired a personal trainer. At every CrossFit box, there are trainers instructing groups of people and within that group setting, those trainers will also work with you one-on-one if needed.

At many locations you often pay a flat rate and have access to other classes such as gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting and cardio. Many CrossFit locations are good places to work with programs like 5/3/1 or Starting Strength. You can train with experts, in small groups or on your own. In most cases, you'll have a weight room with free weights, weight sleds, strongman equipment and all the other cool stuff you'd want in a conventional gym.

11 - It's a fad!

CrossFit has now been around for over 16 years and its popularity continues to grow. The CrossFit Games are sponsored by Reebok, there is ESPN coverage and the athletes have sponsorship deals and book deals. When was the last time you saw a powerlifting or bodybuilding competition on TV? CrossFit was around before bodybuilding categories like Figure Class, Mens Physique, Womens Physique and the Bikini Class were born - and yet they are not considered fads.

You can only tell if something was a fad in hindsight. But CrossFit is still around. And since CrossFit has introduced millions of people to sports like Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and strongman training, these sports have grown with CrossFit. This "fad" has exploded the fitness market and ensured that subcategories and specialized sports don't become "fads" themselves.

12 - It's a cult! CrossFitters don't stop talking about CrossFit!

People get excited when they learn new things and make progress. And they make massive progress together with other people. This creates meaningful bonds. Of course they talk about what they're excited about and they connect with others. What's so amazing about that? You can see "cult-like" behavior in all forms of fitness - primarily beginners.

No one bats an eye when competitive bikini athletes talk about their macronutrients, meal prep, posing and cardio. The truth is, anyone who goes from sedentary to fit will talk about the things they do that make them feel good. And CrossFit has attracted a lot of beginners. This is great news in light of the fact that the rate of obese people in America has surpassed the rate of "just" overweight people.

13 - The CrossFit Games are crazy!

What happens on TV has nothing to do with what happens in your local CrossFit box. And just because you go to a CrossFit gym and work out there doesn't mean you expect to become an athlete who competes in the CrossFit Games. Are the Games extreme? Yes. It's a spectator sport and it's on TV.

14 - CrossFit is gay!

This statement is almost too stupid to even go into, but you'd be surprised how often it comes from bodybuilding fans...guys who cheer for shaved, oiled up men wearing nothing more than some sort of thong. Guys, hear me out, I too like competitions in bodybuilding and physical sports, but calling something "gay" makes you sound like an idiot for many reasons.

15 - They don't use real weights!

CrossFit uses a lot of Olympic weightlifting plates - even for deadlifts. Why? Because those are the plates they have and because they are versatile. A 20 kilo Olympic weightlifting plate weighs the same as a 20 kilo iron weight plate.

Where the naysayers have a point

Olympic weightlifting exercises to improve fitness

Mark Rippetoe has previously said that Olympic weightlifting exercises are not intended to be used to improve fitness for recreational athletes. And what he says makes sense.

The solution: CrossFitters can learn about the risks and then decide how to work to prevent them. Here are some possible precautions:

  1. Train with experts and Olympic weightlifters outside of classes.
  2. Prioritize technique over speed.
  3. Keep the weight conservative.
  4. Stop when technique gets sloppy.
  5. Use a less technically demanding exercise instead of Olympic weightlifting exercises. Trainers should adapt exercises to their clients' abilities.

The order of the exercises

This usually just depends on who is planning the workouts and where the technique and strength portion of the workout is in relation to the metabolic conditioning. However, if extremely demanding conditioning training is performed at the beginning of a training session and is followed by exercises such as squats with a barbell held above your head with arms outstretched, then you are asking for trouble. Who is going to build strength or improve their technique if their legs are shaking, their lungs are burning and their nervous system is in a mess?

The solution: This may not happen often, but when it does, CrossFitters can use an appropriate weight in terms of what they are still capable of.

Not enough hypertrophy-style training

If full range of motion exercises and basic exercises are considered the holy grail of training, then you're going to be missing a few things. Hypertrophy won't just make you look better, it will also strengthen the weak points that often don't get enough attention - for example isolation exercises like gluteus bridge, side raises, supported chest rows, bicep curls, face pulls and leg curls. There's a place for things like this. And also consider techniques that increase time under tension: controlled eccentric reps, partial reps, descending sets and isometric holds. These things all help build more muscle. Isolating the gluteus in the horizontal plane (like gluteus bridges and hip thrusts) can help you run faster and better. But the gluteus is generally only trained in the vertical plane in CrossFit with deadlifts, squats and Olympic weightlifting exercises. And isolating your latissimus can help you use your back muscles during pull-ups instead of destroying your biceps and triceps. These are just a few examples of why isolation training is important. You can focus on one muscle group, build it up, make it look great and it will give you an advantage in many popular basic exercises. The solution: CrossFitters could do hypertrophy training on their own if they wanted to. Building a better mind-muscle connection is such an individual matter that it's almost impossible to put together a group training session that focuses on this. Training to feel a specific muscle burn is very different from other forms of training.

Until you do it yourself, it's not what you think it is

Stop judging CrossFit by what you saw in a YouTube video from 2007. CrossFit has evolved and continues to evolve today. This means that people are looking at CrossFit critically and changing it for the better. If you want to know what CrossFit really feels like, give it a try. But do so with an open mind and a desire to learn. Look for a facility with a good reputation. If a CrossFit gym is full of expert trainers and people making massive progress, then its popularity will spread by word of mouth.

by Dani Shugart | 01/13/16

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